Hidden truths

Hidden truths

Date: January 1, 1970
  • SHARE:

I met my abuser who I confused as my partner for three and a half years when I was seventeen, on the set of his first big break. He was alive and enthusiastic with a magnetism that lured me and catapulted me back at the same time.

We raised many eyebrows in the supposedly new South Africa, me the white suburban Jewish girl from the northern suburbs paired with an unknown ghetto boy with a shady past from the depths of Zola. It seemed mismatched from the outside, but to me at eighteen it was proof that race, culture and class differences meant nothing for two people who delighted in being with one another. It became a fairytale, spending time in Yeoville as we waded through the sea of constantly glaring eyeballs on the streets.
In a matter of months, he had a meteoric rise to fame. Finding his way in the chaos, he decided having a white girlfriend did not suit his image. Now a huge part of his life, it seemed like I had to agree with this. I allowed myself to be hidden from the public in order not to damage his career.
In public, he sprouted monologues about being progressive and forward thinking in all spheres from domestic issues to culture and politics. Publically he was the man with an answer for everything. I watched this from a distance, agitated as he grew louder and I grew more silent.
The engaging debates and conversations we used to have spiraled into tirades of rage. I would try to hold him to get him to listen, to understand, as his uncontrollable energy bulldozed through all that I believed in about us. He would lie like it was the truth, fight against me as If I was his worst enemy and slump into my arms like I was the only thing left in the world. Scenes at clubs, restaurants and in the streets would ensue, leaving me begging for a rational response, which never came.
Eventually, he had lied to, cheated on and emotionally battered me so many times that the adrenalin to fight, to beg, to talk, to become hysterical, ran out. I threw him out as he had thrown me out so many times, but this time there was no inviting him back. I knew after three and a half years this was not going to easy.
He began to stalk me, peering through my windows, waiting for me outside my house, serenading me with love songs that were to further delude the country that this man was not only a representative for all people, but a lover boy too. I thought if we could be friends, it would calm him down. For a while, it worked, until I started a serious relationship and reflected on the kind of person I wanted to become, and how I could process my past in order achieve that.
 I went to his house where he embraced me with open arms. For the first time in our relationship, I stood up for myself knowing what I really wanted. I told him that we had been broken up for two and a half years and that for respect for the person I was now dating and myself, I had to break all ties. In a split second, I was right back in that ugly place. He started screaming and shouting, hurling abuse. I stood there numbed and silent for a while, feeling like I was in a warped tunnel with these obtrusive sounds whooping round, my head urging it to explode. I had not experienced this for such a long time, it was so abnormal yet I was right back in the throws of it.
In my frustrated stupidity, I vaguely attempted to slap him. He grabbed my hand, said, “If a woman can hit a man a man can hit a woman,” and proceeded to punch me blow after blow. I am a fighter and so I tried to slap him in return to get him off me until I managed to flee.
For two weeks after the incident, I was not able to drive, somehow though I managed to get to my sister’s house, which was in the same suburb as his. Without her support, I would have been lost. She took me to the police station to lay a charge. As I walked in the police officers jovially told me my famous ex had already been there to get an affidavit, an attempt to cover his back. As I dictated my statement, they slowly absorbed that the hero and ambassador of all worthy causes had over-stepped his mark.
The next step was to get a protection order against him, another obstacle of bureaucracy that you have to plough through to be heard and taken seriously. However, this incident did not seem to deter my ex-boyfriend’s illusions of grandeur.
After the beating, I deliberately had not gone to the press. I felt that the fact that this had gone so far with his “mama’sekhaya” and that he would never see me again was enough. Also, the experience of the police, the family courts and the Zuma rape trial that was going on at the time was not much encouragement. I was coming to terms with my own battles and was not willing to take on the countries’ responses too.
I retreated; intimidated by the fact that my abuser was such a huge public figure who had successfully deceived a large sector of the South African public into thinking he stands for everything that he is the opposite of in his private life. Fighting women abuse is a difficult thing in a country that claims to be supportive of women where in reality patriarchal attitudes dominate.
Last year I discovered a major campaign where men speak out against women abuse had appointed him an ambassador. I was horrified, my mouth ran dry and my stomach flipped inside out. How could he even dare after what had happened? Did he have no limits? Even though I realised I could answer that myself.
When I saw the proposed ad and him heralding the flag for real men, I realised it was time to do something. I contacted the organisation, shedding light on the personal history of the ambassador. They immediately pulled the campaign before it got any more airtime. Yes, it was a small victory for me, but I also realised that if I could not stand up against him, how could I expect other women to stand up against women abuse too?
I write this story in the hope that other South African women will share their stories to
highlight the fact that we are not isolated in our experiences. Relationships are complex, they force us to examine who we are and it is not always comfortable. However, if we find the strength to take responsibility that we do have power, and that we are not alone, women’s voices can be mobilised to become far greater than just voices.
This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence

Comment on Hidden truths

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *